Saying goodbye to Chiang Mai

Posted by Ted on Dec 16, 2010 in Travel, Vagabonding

Mid-afternoon on November 13th, we arrived in Chiang Mai intending to stay for just a week, ostensibly so that Liz could take a massage class and we could be in town for the Loi Krathong festival. In fact, we had already purchased train tickets to Bangkok for the 22nd and plane tickets to Hanoi for the 23rd with plans to explore Vietnam. Five weeks later, we are still here, having received a 50% refund for the train tickets, and our airline seats left without us.

Needing a break from harrowing adventures and moving around every few days, we quickly found ourselves at home in Chiang Mai. It’s a very easy city, offering great food and lodging at all price points. There is a plethora of activities to choose from, such as massage and cooking classes, yoga, elephant riding and training, interacting with tigers, and both on- and off-road cycling. Street food costs less than $3 for two people, and an hour-long Thai massage can be had for only $4. The city is relatively small and easily navigable, and transport across town costs between $1 and $5. Its central location makes a great home base for exploring all of mainland Southeast Asia. Despite a large population of both transient and long-term foreigners, it retains its character, a modern Thai city with deep Lanna roots. It’s no surprise why it has moved up to the #2 spot in Travel & Leisure’s “Top 10 Cities” list (behind Bangkok).

Liz’ planned one week introduction to Thai massage at ITM turned into two, receiving her certification. After a week’s break, she continued her studies for two more weeks, delving deeper into body alignment and mechanics at RSM. I took a cooking class, explored south of Chiang Mai on a bicycle tour, and went on an overnight mountain biking trip along the Mae Taeng river valley. We played with tigers, spent two nights visiting Pai, and did two visa runs to Burma. I’ve had weekly straight-razor shaves, and we’ve both enjoyed many hours of massage.

We have met some exceptional people during our stay here. We’ve met ITM students from South Africa, Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, and Japan. Our home-away-from-home, WaLai House, has its own community, expanding outwards from the two proprietresses. We had a Thanksgiving party, and several nighttime outings spent dancing the night away to reggae and hip-hop. We’ve been blessed to become a part of Team Chiang Mai, a group of folks living in or just passing through the area. I’ve met two more Vagabonding Case Studies in person; Bessie & Kyle, and Inderjeet. We had dinner with the extraordinary archivist, Victoria Vorreiter, whom I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this summer.

Not surprisingly, food has been a highlight of our stay here. Noodle dishes such as Pad Thai are light years beyond what we’ve had in the U.S., and a new favorite is Pad Si Ew. Chiang Mai has its signature soup, Khao Soi. Of course there is also fried chicken, fried spring rolls, and pork balls. Fruit shakes (cantaloupe or honeydew and coconut being the best) and fresh guava, jackfruit, and mangosteen. And I could not forget my rotee addiction.

As you can see, there’s a lot to love about Chiang Mai. We already look forward to returning.

In half an hour, our first RTW will come to an end. A taxi will arrive to take us to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Then we have a flight to New York, via Korea. Flying east across the dateline, we gain back the day we lost three months ago, and we arrive at JFK twenty minutes before we leave Seoul tomorrow morning. Tonight will be a very. long. night.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

1 Comment

[…] 1. Chiang Mai – Everything I hear about this Thai city is positive. It sounds like a dream land of tigers, elephants, cheap massage classes and cooking schools, delicious and cheap street foods and a mecca for meeting other travellers that get stuck there simply because it’s so good to be true. One such confession is here: Saying goodbye to Chiang Mai […]